A move to the bullpen has led to Wil Crowe having a breakout campaign for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. What has drive that breakout for Crowe?
At the end of spring training the Pittsburgh Pirates made the decision to move right-handed pitcher Wil Crowe into a full-time bullpen role. This decision has helped lead to Crowe putting together a breakout season.
Crowe had pitched in 44 games this season, logging 58.1 innings. Outside of one appearance as an opener, each of his appearances have come out of the bullpen. Both his 43 relief appearances and 56.1 innings pitched out of the bullpen lead all MLB relievers.
Crowe has posted terrific numbers this season. He owns a 3.09 ERA, 3.21 FIP, 9.9% walk rate and a 23.5% strikeout rate. Most importantly, he has allowed just three home runs giving him a home run rate of 0.46 HR/9. Last season, the long ball was Crowe’s biggest bugaboo as he allowed home runs at a rate of 1.93 HR/9. Fixing him home run issue has gone a long way toward fueling his breakout campaign.
There are a few reasons that Crowe has been able to limit the home run ball this season. First off, he has been inducing ground balls. His ground ball rate this season is 49.0% which is a significant improvement over his 42.9% ground ball rate this season. Ground balls, obviously, can not result in a home run. So an improved ground ball rate will lead to less home runs.
A second factor in Crowe drastically reducing the amount of home runs allowed and in turn breaking out this season has been opposing batters failing to square up his pitches. Opposing batters own just a 3.8% barrel rate (league average is 6.7%), 25.2% hard hit rate (league average is 35.7%) and an average exit velocity of 86.2 MPH (league average is 88.4 MPH) against Crowe. In fact, all three of these are among the best in baseball with Crowe sitting in the 90th percentile of baseball in average exit velocity, 91st percentile in barrel rate and the 99th percentile in hard hit rate.
Since transitioning to a full-time bullpen role Crowe’s stuff has started to play up. This is not a surprise, nor is it uncommon for pitchers who move to a reliever role. It has also been a contributing factor in his breakout campaign.
Crowe’s four-seamed fastball, slider, changeup, curveball, and sinker have all experienced an increase in velocity this season. His slider and changeup have been Crowe’s two best weapons this season.
Last season, Crowe threw his slider 24.7% of the time and his changeup 18.2% of the time. This season, those two rates have grown to 30.1% and 29.0% as they have become his two most frequently thrown pitches.
Opposing batters batting just .179 while slugging 284 off of Crowe’s slider. The pitch has generated a whiff rate of 34.8%. As for changeup, it has limited opposing batters to a .213 average and .367 slugging percentage while generating a whiff rate of 34.7%.
Crowe’s fastball has also experienced improved results this season. Last season, opposing batters hit .328 and slugged .597 off of Crowe’s four-seamer. This season, the pitch has been in the 76th percentile of fastball spin rate in all of baseball, while limiting opposing batters to a .161 batting average and .173 slugging percentage. The pitch’s whiff rate has improved form 20.4% last season to 23.4% this season.
The sinker has also been a quality pitch for Crowe. In fact, he has thrown it more than his four-seamed fastball this season (22.1% vs 16.0%). Opposing batters have slugged just .275 off of his sinker. He has also all but dropped his curveball, having only thrown the pitch 29 times all season. This is for good reason, as both last season and this season opposing batters have slugged .500 off of his curveball.
This season, Crowe has emerged as a long-term building block in the Pirate bullpen. Crowe remains under team control through the 2026 season, this should lead to him being a big part of the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen for many seasons to come.